New international research has uncovered that the key to unlocking the potential of hybrid teams is by focusing on managers, and equipping them with the tools and support they need to be productive and build authentic team connections.
The board often overlooks the support required for managers as they’re perceived as being automatically prepared to deal with the many challenges, but a lack of managerial training and emotional support can lead to both disengaged managers and teams.
A new international study by Insights Learning & Development has surprisingly revealed that only 19% of managers receive the investment they need to support and motivate their hybrid teams, highlighting that more groundwork is required.
The findings also emphasise that it’s harder for managers of hybrid teams to make strong connections (76%). With one in five managers struggling with feelings of loneliness, flagging that health and well-being support is also an area of improvement.
However, overall, managers of hybrid teams indicate that it’s not all doom and gloom for this new way of working. The research among 3,000 office workers (of which 851 are managers), across Europe and North America, found that half confirmed hybrid working has had a positive impact on team performance and agility and only 15% reported it as a negative.
Nearly half of managers also believe they have improved performance since they started working in a hybrid team and delivering objectives has become easier, with 42% agreeing.
Considering these statistics through a learning lens, it’s clear that emphasis needs to be on delivering health and well-being support and a re-energised focus on team connectivity. So how can organisations carve a cohesive environment for managers to set up their teams for success?
Backed up by our findings, here are four key takeaways to ensure your organisation is heading in the right direction.
1. Equip managers for effective conversations
In a hybrid setting, without face-to-face conversations it can be increasingly difficult to pick up on social cues and behaviours through a screen, making it tough to have authentic, compassionate conversations. In fact, 68% of managers in our survey confirmed it was a challenge.
Also, our results show that 71% of managers felt that they were not able to give immediate support professionally or mentally to their teams, highlighting the need to support managers with the skills and knowledge to have those authentic—sometimes tough—conversations.
Awareness is essential for developing those essential human skills of compassion, communication, empathy, adaptability, collaboration, and conflict resolution that lead to improved relationships, and better personal and business outcomes.
As one example, at Insights, we use the Insights Discovery awareness model’s common language of colour to help make it easier and more memorable for people to understand themselves and others. Talking about issues in a non-judgmental, non-confrontational way, in a manner that is underpinned by mutual respect and positive regard, will build trust and cohesion. In this way, when the team comes under pressure in future, they will use the strength of their connections to weather the stormy waters.
2. Invest in feedback
It’s clear that managers of hybrid teams are particularly looking for support in receiving feedback on their own performance, with over one-third saying they want more one-to-one time with their own manager.
Feedback should always be clear, concise and specific by offering examples. It can be formal or informal in nature by spontaneously affirming or via planned one-to-ones. These interactions are critical in creating two-way conversations. Also don’t forget to open up the floor afterwards for managers to share ideas, ask questions, challenges and raise concerns without retribution.
Remember managers want praise for hard work as much as employees, with 27% saying they fear their contribution is less valued as they are less visible. To mitigate the physical distance that comes with hybrid working, it’s even more important as a leader to set aside time and capacity in our managers’ diaries. Walk the floor of the business virtually and metaphorically and observe where good things are happening and reward and acknowledge good practices openly.
Also don’t forget to be authentically transparent. Do not discreetly include praise via an email: openly acknowledge good practice when it happens.
3. Encourage inclusivity
It’s clear from our study that managers feel disconnected from remote colleagues and one in five hybrid managers struggles with feelings of loneliness. One way to combat this is to have a strategic focus on team relationship building and connectivity.
Managers are central to the whole team’s success, so ensure your leaders feel able to dedicate resources to create deeper, authentic connections, whether that’s virtually or in person.
For example, at Insights, we have a dedicated employee engagement team who aim to offer an engaging experience for all our people. They work with our managers to understand their role in driving improvements to employee experience within their teams and strategically aim to build a culture where people are happy and productive.
Also, our social committees arrange events with everyone in mind. Whether it’s Pizza Fridays in the office, encouraging hybrid workers to join in, virtual cheese tasting for everyone across the globe or regionalised family fun days; whatever suits you and your teams.
Another point to take on board is to introduce a “check-in” at the start of every virtual meeting. This gives leaders and colleagues alike time to build a rapport and to be able to fully focus on the task ahead.
People need time out to take a step back and reconnect with their team members, no matter where they are working.
4. Make time for stakeholder management
From the report, it’s also evident that managers need greater support to connect with and manage teams and, in particular, 30% of managers said they needed support with stakeholder management and relationship building (only 17% of the non-management population we surveyed found this as an issue).
As managers, they can sometimes feel like they are treading water, ducking in and out of meeting after meeting and struggling to find the time to develop themselves.
At Insights, we’ve created “meeting free Fridays” every other week, to ensure managers and colleagues alike can set aside time for self-development and to meet with colleagues to learn from each other. To create strong foundations, we also have clear learning development tools and plans across all levels of our organisation to suit all preferences.
Empower your managers with time to build rich relationships with the rest of the organisation and, in return, they will be more agile, connected, and productive.
In summary, it is clear that hybrid work has been embraced by the management population, with 73% who manage hybrid teams wanting to continue to work this way for the remainder of their careers. However, our research recommends that if you embrace these pointers by facing the challenges head-on, then you will be able to equip your managers with all the superpowers they need to be successful in a hybrid workplace.
Marcus Wylie is head of culture at global people development company Insights Learning & Development